Prayer roots our identity in God
Once again, we do not know the content of Jesus’ prayer, but we are able to see what
happens immediately afterward:
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked
them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but
others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He
said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of
Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and
scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:18-22).
Luke is the only one of the evangelists to note that Jesus was in prayer alone (except
for the presence of his disciples) before he has this interchange with them,
concerning his identity.
•He begins with the most exterior point of view: who do the crowds say that I am?
•The answers, which have their roots in the last chapter of the biblical book of the
prophet Malachi, show some awareness of Jesus and his ministry, but also
•Malachi 4:6 was the last verse of the last scroll of the Jewish scriptures in Greek
translation, and served a very important role in the earliest Christian communities.
•Elijah is named in it as a forerunner of God’s decisive action to reclaim the world,
and the portrayal of John the Baptist in Luke is also crafted to show the
•Malachi 4:5-6 reads: “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible
day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”
•Luke 1:17 is part of the annunciation to Zechariah by an angel in the Temple, who
tells him of the birth of John (the Baptist): “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will
go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the
wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Jesus then asks them directly, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter breaks through
the confusion to say, “The Messiah of God.”
•At this point in the Gospel narrative, we don’t know how Jesus himself
understands his identity, but as hearers (or readers), we have an “aha!” moment, as
we begin to understand Jesus as not only one who is preparing God’s way, but one
who in some fashion embodies it, wholly.
•Jesus is anointed by God to be a kind of living Torah, God’s presence and teaching
at human scale.
Then, we are invited to go yet another level deeper in our grasp of Jesus’ identity
and role: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
•We can only wonder how it was that Jesus’ prayer perhaps led him into
acknowledgment and acceptance of all that lay before him in his path of
faithfulness to God: suffering, rejection, and death.
•And yet, on the other side of those things he saw, too, that God would raise him.
•It seems that his life of prayer gives Jesus the hope, confidence, and faith that will
guide him all the way through crucifixion into boundless life.
Questions for Reflection:
•Who do others say that you are? Who do those closest to you say that you are? Who
do you say that you are? Who does God say that you are? What would it take to live
into God’s vision of you?
•It seems clear that, for Jesus, prayer is not so much a matter of asking God for
things as of listening to God’s view of his life. In your experience, has prayer
helped you to acknowledge and also to endure hard things that you could see
•Has prayer ever helped you to recognize new life where the world might expect
only suffering or death?
My God, you made me and know me through and through. Help me to see myself
as you see me, and likewise to see others as you see them. And then inspire me to
see as well how I may live as Christ in the details of my daily life: fully myself and
fully in Christ. This I pray in the Name of Jesus, Your Son and my Lord. Amen.